Pentecost 12, 2016, Luke 12:32-40
32, Have no fear little flock; for your Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.
Phobias – We’ve all got some. Fear of heights, Fear of closed in places. Fear of crowds. Fear of saying something in the presence of others or that we have done or said the wrong thing. Fear of water. Fear of flying. Fear of change.
Jesus says to us today, “Fear not.” The scribes and Pharisees had begun to press and provoke Jesus seeking to ambush him with his own words. The multitudes of people were trampling one another to get their personal gripes satisfied. Last Sunday a man interrupted Jesus pressing him to settle an inheritance dispute. With all this the disciples were likely beginning to get a knotted up feeling in their stomachs. Where would this end if Jesus doesn’t back off, as he pushed on toward Jerusalem? Is this the kingdom of God? Are we in the kingdom? A lot of people are telling us that Jesus is wrong about the kingdom of God. They were fearful.
Some fears about the kingdom of God are also our fears. Fear does not really hear the message of Christ, but something else. Fear begins to wonder about the future. Fear hears something new or different going on in the religious scene and says, “Maybe I really haven’t been in the kingdom of God all this time. What if I am not really a Christian? What if I’m not really saved? I have no big spiritual awakening that I can point to.” Fear hears Christ’s forgiveness and says: “That can’t be for me.” Fear leads us to say, “I sure hope God forgives me.” “I hope Christ takes me to heaven someday.” Fear does not hear the good news of Jesus Christ as good news.
Faith does hear the Gospel. Faith receives the good news of Jesus Christ and sees that he is the shepherd of the little flock of God’s people. Faith casts out fear. Faith trusts in God. And when faith sees Christ as the head of the church its sees him as one who is faithful.
Faith sees that becoming a member of God’s kingdom is not a matter of our working, our worry, and striving. The kingdom is not something to be grasped in such a way. A pastor I worked with said one time that we should stop trying so hard and using up so much energy to get into heaven. Our text for today says the same thing. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Your Father has chosen to give you his kingdom. And the kingdom is nothing other than where Jesus Christ is present with the good news of salvation. You are already in the kingdom of God. So stop fretting about it.
When did you enter the kingdom? For most of us it was at baptism. There we received the gifts of life, forgiveness of sins and salvation. Through Christ, God has already given us the kingdom as our possession. God has already forgiven our sins. Faith simply receives what Jesus has already done for us. Luther says that faith points to the blood of Christ and proclaims: “That’s what gained my salvation.” He also wrote, “(Jesus) died with the intent that this testament become permanent and irrevocable.”
So with such sure promises from God, faith wants to get out there and get at the work of the kingdom. So let’s get out there and give the kingdom away to others and build up each other in Jesus Christ. Let’s start serving God by serving one another and the community. That’s what faith wants to do.
But fear isn’t through with us yet. Fear reins in on faith and reminds faith that it has to deal with reality, or what fear thinks is reality. Faith says, “I’ve got the kingdom of God as my possession, all these other possessions are not really important. After all, they are gifts from God to be given to those in need just like the kingdom is.” Fear says to us, if we are a senior citizen: “Wait a minute, I have to keep enough for myself to get by until the day I die. I’ve got to be careful.” And if we have a growing family, fear speaks: “Look there are braces and college costs, and house payments, and I’m busy, busy, busy. Let someone else look after the affairs of the kingdom.” The single person might hear fear saying: “I don’t have a whole family network to support me and back me up. I’m on my own, and I’ve got to look out for myself.”
Some years ago a group of boys broke into a hardware store. They didn’t take anything, but rearranged the price tags. Power mowers were now $3.29 and flashlight batteries were $439. Towel racks were .29cents and roofing nails were $5.63 apiece. All the values were hopelessly confused. It’s very easy for us to do the same with our priorities in life. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Fear leads us to concentrate on our billfolds and pocket books. But they wear out. How many of us don’t have an old one laying around the house? When possessions become the focus of our concentration then they become our goal. Possessions absorb our energy and our planning.
Faith says, “Pocketbooks and billfolds that wear out are not needed. Heaven is a purse which contains an ageless, invaluable and inexhaustible treasure. Total economic ruin will not diminish it in the least.” Faith changes our view of both God’s kingdom and our possessions. Faith says, “Fear not. Don’t be anxious.” Faith regards all other gifts of God as blessings to be shared.
But fear continues to badger us. Fear raises the issue: “Doesn’t Jesus say we should be watchful and waiting for his return? But you don’t know when he is coming. What if you are not prepared when Jesus returns? What if I sin at the moment of his return or my death?”
Faith however, responds: “The coming of the Lord is a joyous thing. There is no need to fear. After all, didn’t he choose you to be part of the celebration? Remember he has given you the kingdom already. All your other possessions will one day be lost. Not your possession of life, salvation and forgiveness of sins. That is not based on you, but on Christ. You are already prepared for his coming in the good news to which faith clings and which it proclaims. Forgiveness of sins extends even to the very last one you commit, because Jesus paid for that one too.” Your baptism is valid, in which God says you are mine.
Fear or faith. Within ourselves they both struggle. But fear simply seeks to center attention on myself. Fear tells me I am in charge. Fear leads me to think that somehow through my worry, my struggle, my anxiety and effort I can determine what the future will be. Fear has me concentrate on some past sin which I fear may keep me out of the kingdom after all.
Faith says, “I’m not in charge here. God is. Let go of yesterday. Let go of the past. God has already dealt with the past. He, in Jesus has already guaranteed the future.”
So what do we do in the meantime. Something useful. We serve Christ best by serving others. So where do we serve? Sister Corita Kent, a Christian artist, once said, “Accept an assignment, then you won’t feel responsible for everything.” Fear says either “I can’t,” or “I am the only one and will have to do everything myself.” Faith says God has given a multitude of gifts to his people. I will use mine where he so directs. For in that way, fear is cast out and faith becomes visible.
We do not know when Christ will return. But in faith we are ready. We are prepared. We can continue to live with faith, assured that he will uphold us. We can continue to serve knowing that our love will be a blessing. And we can continue to hope, because God has and will keep his promises.